After having not gigged for over 2 years now. Im now relocated, rejuvinated and feeling the itch to play live again. This has also been compounded by moving in with my girlfriend. So with domestic issues of space at the forefront of my mind Ive had a rethink about my gear recently.
I guess my main amps for the last decade have been Marshall JCM2000 TSL heads with a 4 x 12 (in both 60watt and 100 watt varieties). The plus side of the TSL has been its ability to give me both an impressive jangly clean and a choice of modern hard rockin crunch type sound. However nothing is ever ideal, while the 60watt version has a brilliant transparent and footswitchable FX loop, channel 2 is on the whole rather undergained.
The 100 watt version has seperate EQ’s and master volumes for each channel, also the 100 watt has an awful 2 loop FX design that sucks tone from the amp in a rather blatant way.
The good thing about the TSL 100 is that all 3 channels are very useable, the channel 2 is basically a JCM800 sound, while Channel 3 is a little fizzy, but as I never run my gain beyond 1 o’ clock, its a perfectly usable beast, the mid-boost control on the clean channel has always been impressive, especially with my telecasters vintage style neck single coil.
But in a modern new build apartment space is paramount, so the head and 4 x 12 cab idea is gone for now. Sold to a lovely bloke in a hard rock covers band.
With the cash burning a hole in my back pocket, I made a decision to return to the 2 x 12 combo format.
In some ways the 2 x 12 combo is actually much better for smaller gigs. While a 4 x 12 cab with its air sealed back is very directional in its output, plus you don’t really get the sweet spot tonally unless your about 15 feet from the rig. A 2 x 12 combo on the other hand with its exposed back gives a nice even spread of volume across a much wider area, the sweet spots probably only 8 or 9 feet away from the amp. Theres also a psychological advantage when dealing with sound engineers, with its global master volume a TSL60 must be about the most quietest head Marshall currently make, but the sight of such a huge rig always encouraged the majority of sound engineers to tell me to turn it down. Often before I’d even played a note. I’d say the TSL60 was very much a sheep in wolfs clothing
With the decision made on a combo, there was then the question of which one?
At one point i’d decided to go for a single channel amp and just use pedals to get my sound. This would make for less cables and less time on setting up and breaking down. I’d seen some video footage of the band Fiction Plane (featuring son of Sting Joe Sumner) playing live in a club in Holland, their guitarist Seton Daunt seemed to have a very versatile rig consiting of a Vox AC30 or Two Rock head & Cab being fed from a comprehensive pedalboard made up for various Pete Cornish,Pro Co, Sansamp, Eventide and Dunlop pedals. Stylistically he seemed to go between Edge like textures and Frusciante type clean sounds. With the odd heavy moment thrown in. I could see that his solution was useful. Less cable and less faffing around.
Ampwise I was wary of Vox AC30′s. I did play a gig with one once in 1992 and it sounded heavenly, but I’ve heard so many things over the years about “reliability” that I had my concerns. The AC30 Heroes of Switzerland borrowed to make our album was a 1960′s one that had been extensively rebuilt. So again even with the new chinese made AC30′s coming onto the market at very affordable prices I wasn’t sure.
My next thought was a single channel amp like a JCM800 combo or even a 900, 800′s are becoming stupidly priced and I was unsure about finding a decent one. So I even looked at the Vintage Modern series amps by Marshall. But after trying one out I was underwhelmed. I love the look of the Bluesbreaker combo’s but again I wasn’t sure it’d do what I asked of it.
I then got to try a Blackstar series One 45 watt combo, which I liked, although the control knobs felt a bit cheap, it did sound good, but new they are like a grand. My Budget was £600. no more
I went to see the Cult with a friend of mine last month and during our pre gig pint I reflected over my choices. My friend (who’s a bass player) basically thought I’d gotten a great sound out of Marshalls over the last 10 years so why change. He felt the only time I had a bad sound was when I went down the rackmounted route about 15 years ago, when I was “trying to have a rig that was all things to all men”.
With that in mind I returned to the idea of the Marshall TSL, but this time in combo format. The Marshall TSl 122 is essentially a TSL100 built into a 2 x 12 cab. Theres usually a fair amount of them in the classifieds and Ebay. Prices range from around £450-700 depending on age and condition. I bought a cleanish one on Ebay for £450.00
The big problem with this is basically putting such a huge amp chassis into such a small cab. They weigh around 30+ Kilo’s so its not an amp for the faint hearted. In terms of playing round the house even with the master volume on 1, this is screamingly loud dumping its 100 + watts of sheer power into 2 x 8 Ohm Celestions, also the lack of space for the tubes in such a cabinet means it gets very hot, much hotter than the equivalent head as I recall.
My first thoughts on this amp are that I need to go back to using an Overdrive pedal as it doesn’t seem to like the Pro Co RAT 2 I was using for solo’s before, so my immediate thoughts are towards a Boss SD-1 or similar, maybe a Keeley modified one?
I’d also like to add a compressor pedal to the rig and maybe a chorus/flanger of some description. But my immediate thoughts are towards a new pedalboard. My Electro Harmonix Gigbag style has been ok, but in reality offers little protection and the pedals simply do not bond to velcro pads easily.
I’ll update when Im gigging next.